Part 1: VisionAware Peers Demonstrate the Relevancy of Braille in the 21st Century For People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Photo of person using a 4-line slate and stylus.

Caption: Writing Braille with a Slate and Stylus

Trina Bassak

Trina is a physical therapist. She described the results of a 3-way call between herself, Jeannie Johnson, and myself on the use of slate and stylus. “It came up because of my dismay in braille labeling and lack of options,” Trina said. “I really was never taught formally the slate and stylus…” After discussing a few suggestions with Jeannie and Lynda, Trina decided to give it another go. “It turned out to be amazingly more convenient, efficient and useful for making all types of labels. I love it! I see its usefulness as a portable tool,” Trina continued. “Hard to believe it sat in my desk untouched for this long–more than a decade! When it could have made my life so much easier!”

James Boehm

At age fifteen, James, entrepreneur and professional counselor, began a career in automotive restyling and restoration. By the time he finished high school, Car dealerships were contracting with his business Custom Effects to personalize their own automobiles and James’s creative handiwork as a unique incentive for customers who purchased vehicles from their dealerships. This young entrepreneur would find new outlets for his creative drive in 2009 when he lost his vision. His energy would be redirected from one means of getting around through an automobile to another—a mobility cane used by people with visual impairments, which he parlayed into a thriving business.

Three days after waking up blind in the hospital James tells that he realized he had two choices. “I could either be a bump on a log and have others take care of me, or I could face this head-on and move forward.” One tool he immediately realized would be necessary in his future was braille. He asked his sister to google the braille alphabet, and by the time he left the hospital two weeks later, James had begun teaching himself braille! For the rest of this amazing story be sure to read “From Customized Automobiles to Customized Canes: James Boehm’s Story”.

DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

DeAnna, author and professional in the field of vision loss, speaks for many braille users. “Braille makes learning math much easier as well as subjects that require nonliterary accuracy such as scientific symbols, formulas, diagrams, etc.” For reasons like these, and his own frustrations while earning a PhD in mathematics, Dr. Abraham Nemeth, sometimes called the Louis Braille of mathematics, blind from birth, developed the braille math code adopted in 1951. All peer advisors agree that Braille just makes learning easier at times than relying on audio alternatives.

Kerry Kijewski

Could there be a stronger endorsement for braille than the one given by writer Kerry? She’s so taken with braille that visiting Louis Braille’s birthplace Coupvray, France, is on her bucket list. It would probably be easy to put together a tour group of the VA Peer Advisors to join Kerry on her trip!

Elizabeth Sammons

Elizabeth, an author, is currently on a tour promoting her latest novel. She finds braille invaluable for notes when giving presentations, labels on her credit cards for reading the number easily, and braille on her Sunday hymnal.

Sandra Burgess

Sandra, a social worker, began learning Braille in public school in 1957. In time, Sandra became proficient in reading and writing it. Today, braille is incorporated into all facets of her life. When she serves as reader at church, reading Scripture, prayers and announcements, she uses technology. But Sandra’s technology is not audio; it provides text in braille. Standing at the lectern, her hands and Braille display are invisible to the congregation, creating the debate of whether Sandra has an amazing memory or is reading braille. “This task, and many others, would not be possible for me without the use of Braille,” Sandra remarked.

Jeannie Johnson

“I often tell people that I use braille as sighted people use print. “It is that important to me,” commented Jeannie, long-time successful braille instructor. Jeannie uses index cards in all three standard sizes to write contact information, shopping and holiday gift lists; schedules and reservation details for hotels, airline, or bus trips; recommended local restaurants near home or in areas she’ll be visiting; and the list goes on and on. Jeannie stores some books on a refreshable braille note taker, but her bookshelves contain the Holy Bible, song books, cooking and craft books, print/braille books to share with children… Aside from reading pleasure books in audio format, more often than not, if the option is available, Jeannie prefers braille!

Other Uses of Braille

Several VA Peer Advisors mentioned their love of playing games with family and friends. Specifically mentioned were Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue, and a variety of card games that can be purchased through specialty companies. With a slate and stylus or braille labeler any game can be adapted with braille. Once while on a weekend outing at the beach with some sighted friends, I labelled four decks of playing cards with my slate and stylus for a Canasta marathon!

Another popular topic during the VA Peer discussions was brailling recipes. Almost every VA Peer mentioned recipes either brailled by hand or in recipe books. Jeannie Johnson admitted that she has several long file drawers full of 5 by 8 inch index cards that contain recipes she’s brailled over many years. I too love to cook and without braille letters on my digital oven panel, I don’t know how I could use all of the options—bake, broil, raise and lower temperatures, and use auto-clean after the annual Thanksgiving turkey.

This is a very small sample of the value of braille to the lives of those who use it every day carrying out daily chores and professional duties. These individuals and all other braille users teach school, perform scientific research, serve in Congress, travel using credit cards; label correspondence, insurance policies, household receipts; wash clothing, prepare meals, clean bathrooms; play games, listen to CD’s and DVD’s; most of which need labels and a system for organizing and retrieving. None of these tasks can be done with audio devices. Braille users ride elevators, wait at a bus stop for public transportation, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and occasionally take a cruise. This list could go on and on. When braille is absent in any of these areas, the braille user is forced to depend on a sighted person for information, interfering with the independence that most people take for granted.

Be sure to read Part 2 in this series: Sighted Individuals Discuss the Relevancy of Braille.

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